Updating 1960s tropes we love often involves sacrificing the richly vibed heritage that made them great. Elephant9’s sophomore offering is a surprising and welcome exception. The tunes are varied, arrangements are usually kept interesting, and the sound is somehow vintage and contemporary in equal measure.
The trio, consisting of Supersilent’s Ståle Storløkken on keys, Big Bang’s Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen on bass and Shining drummer Torstein Lofthus, dropped its first platter, Dodovoodoo, a couple of years ago. Walk the Nile is a big improvement. The group’s sound is more diverse, due in large part to a more varied approach by Lofthus. In his playing, jazz inflections have given way to invitingly progish tendencies with metal tinges that would be out of place by any late ‘60s standards, but he can still bring on the groove when necessary. The quick-shod complexities of “Fuglphonics” attest to that. By contrast, his playing on the waftily Protean “Aviation” moves from rich reverberation to stark and slightly distorted attacks, complementing Storlokken’s organ drones and Emmersonian clusters.
Lofthus’s beefier timbres put the others’ contributions into sharper focus, leading to group unity. The title track’s bottom-heavy and distorted groove is given perfect support by Storlokken’s organ, while Eilertsen takes on a rhythmic role, bolstering the dark atmospherics with punchy interjections and anchoring everything while Storlokken explores the spaceways. It might have been nice if the track had been connected to “Hard Core Orientale,” as there’s a bit of let-down when the searing intensity of “Walk the Nile” fades quickly. The album closes with another air-tight schorcher, “John Tinnick,” bringing the wild ride to something approaching a circular conclusion.
The briefer pieces, which feel underdeveloped, is the disc’s only shortcoming. They should either be connected or expanded, the long-form contributing immensely to Supersilent’s continued success. Elephant9 is clearly in a state of development. As it stands, Walk the Nile is a promising next step for a group I’d all but dismissed as imitators.